Let's Bust Some Rolex "Myths" (or less euphemistically known as lies...)

Myth #1 - The First Waterproof Watch

"In 1926, the creation by Rolex of the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch marked a major step forward. Given the name “Oyster”, this watch featured a hermetically sealed case which provided optimal protection for the movement." 

Source - Rolex: https://www.rolex.com/about-rolex-watches/1926-1945.html

Q. Is this assertion True or False?  A. False

The first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch was developed by Waltham in 1919 seven years before the Rolex Oyster...the Waltham Depollier “Field & Marine” Waterproof Watch...

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Link for your reference and additional reading:

https://medium.com/watchmakers-ch/1919-waltham-depollier-thermo-the-first-waterproof-watch-has-finally-been-found-8ff3aa9220ad

So how has Rolex gotten away with such a blatant falsehood. Your guess is as good as mine.

Do you really want to buy a watch from a company that knowingly tells untruths?

Myth #2 - The First Self-Winding Watch

"In 1931, Rolex invented and patented the world's first self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor. This ingenious system, a true work of art, is today at the heart of every modern automatic watch."

Source - Rolex: https://www.rolex.com/about-rolex-watches/1926-1945.html

Q. Is this assertion True or False?  A. False (sort of - the key to Rolex's claim is the "perpetual rotor" part - though they just typically abbreviate it to the first self-winding watch)

"On September 1, 1924 the Swiss Confederation in Berne awarded him [John Harwood] Patent No. 10 65 83 for his pioneering invention of the first self-winding wristwatch."

John Harwood was the inventor of the self-winding wristwatch in 1924, again seven years before Rolex. Harwood worked with Fortis to launch the first self-winding automatic wristwatch.

"At the Basel Trade Fair in 1926 FORTIS presented the world's first mass-produced automatic wristwatches to an enthusiastic international audience. The HARWOOD Automatic was a pioneer in the history of the wristwatch and had a considerable impact on subsequent development of the automatic watch."

Link for your reference and additional reading:

http://www.harwood-watches.com/en/history/index.html

We know how Rolex has gotten away with this whopper - they add the phrase "perpetual rotor" implying they invented the automatic movement, when again it could not be further from the truth.

Myth #3 - The First Watch With A Date Window on the Dial

"The year 1945 saw the birth of the Datejust, the first self‑winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial."

Source - Rolex: https://www.rolex.com/about-rolex-watches/1926-1945.html

Q. Is this assertion True or False?  A. False (sort of - the key to Rolex's claim is the self-winding part - though they just generally abbreviate it to the first watch with date window and then the further claim of day and date)

"In 1930 Mimo (Girard Perregaux) patented and released to the market the Mimo-Meter, first wristwatch with a date window."

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"This model allows the public to enjoy a watch complication that was reserved only for high end watches."

This first complication on a wristwatch was developed fifteen years before the watch Rolex produced using the same complication with an automatic movement (that they also supposedly invented).

Link for your reference and additional reading: https://italianwatchspotter.com/the-very-first-complication-the-date/?lang=en

Again, notice the sleight of hand here with bending the truth and implying something of greater importance than reality.

How can we trust this company?
 

Myth #4 - The First Watch To Reach The Summit of Mount Everest

"In 1953, Sir John Hunt’s expedition, in which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest, was equipped with Oyster Perpetuals."

Source - Rolex: https://www.rolex.com/about-rolex-watches/1953-1967.html

Q. Is this assertion True or False?  A. False 

The first watches to actually reach the summit of Mount Everest were Smiths - these were customized A404 references renamed as A409.

"Presented to the Clockmakers Museum around October 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary, after wearing it on his ascent up the mountain. The watch is a Smiths De Luxe 15 jewel movement in a steel waterproof case by the Dennison Watch Case Company. It was originally oiled with a special lubricant to withstand low temperatures- on his return Hillary had reported to Smiths that he had been very satisfied with the watch. The watch is on display in the Clockmakers Museum at the Science Museum London" - Anna Rolls, Curator of the Clockmakers' Museum, in an email to The Outdoor Journal.

Here are the facts:

"The 1953 expedition made two attempts to reach the summit. The first, by Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon, failed; the sufficient cause of their failure was the failure, due to ice, of their oxygen systems. These were an experimental setup of Bourdillon’s own design. The system was known to be troublesome but was infinitely more efficient and economical when working. Hillary and Norgay used an open breather system that was functionally unchanged from the system used successfully by Mallory in 1924.

Both Evans and Bourdillon wore Rolex 6098 watches and Bourdillon also wore a Smiths A409.  The Rolex were a specially prepared, but standard, Rolex model available commercially at the time.  This combined an A296 winding module with a Cal.765 movement in a 35.5mm ‘Big Bubbleback’ case.

Bourdillon and Evans’ watches can be clearly identified in photographs taken during the expedition and on their return to camp IV after their failed attempt. Evans’ has resurfaced in the public domain and pictures of it are common. Had they succeeded, it is clear that the watch on the summit would have been a standard Rolex 6098 with a white radium dial. Rolex’s advertising department would have had a field day.

They didn’t. The rest is history.

Everest’s summit was finally reached, by Hillary and Norgay,  on the 29th of May at 11:30 am local (7 am in London). The expedition was equipped with heavy, low-powered radios. The summit party was not carrying them and did not contact anyone until they met Lowe near Camp IV some five hours later. It's unclear if the Rolex watches ever did reach the summit of Everest. The facts seem to indicate otherwise."

Link for your reference: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/featured/opinion-editorial/rolex-vs-smiths-which-watch-summited-everest-in-1953-putting-a-controversy-to-rest/

So the reputation of the Explorer as the first watch that summited Everest appears to be another fable dreamt up by Rolex's advertising and marketing department.

Myth #5 - The First Professional Dive Watch

"Launched in 1953, the Submariner was the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres (330 feet). Its rotatable bezel allows divers to read their immersion time."

Source - Rolex: https://www.rolex.com/about-rolex-watches/1953-1967.html

Q. Is this assertion True or False?  A. False 

Again, Rolex implies that it developed the first professional dive watch. I probably don't need to inform this wise group of seasoned collectors that the first professional dive watch was the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms from which Rolex homaged the design and took the key elements of that classic original design to copy them for the Submariner.

The Fifty Fathoms was available in 1953 and had been in use prior to that date. Rolex did not release the Submariner until 1954 with design elements clearly based on the Fifty Fathoms including the rotating dive bezel.

Blancpain watch

Quite honestly I decided to stop at FIVE "Myths"...I figured that would be enough to make my point.

You now have the facts and the references (pun intended).

You decide...is Rolex a company that you can trust? If not, why would you buy a watch from a company you didn't trust?

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Well researched....but I knew that because I had previously followed the Waltham link in your comment. Rolex has been about marketing forever.

Thanks for this.

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I could be wrong but I’ve read they bought the patent for the Helium eacape valve from another company thereby claimed they invented it.

This might a good spot to clear thar up, too 

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I had resigned myself to never purchasing a Rolex. 

After reading this post and the supporting references, I have resolved myself to never purchasing one. 

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It's marketing. A lot of their competitors that made firsts were either gone or under new management/in name only hence getting away with their false claims. For a non-profit coughbullcough their marketing is very cutthroat.

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Well done. Lots of similar articles on this with a few more.

There are so many asterisks with their marketing claims. Like you said, comes down to many technicalities and separating myth from reality. Watchmaking existed long before Rolex as did many of the innovations, granted largely in pocket watches. Most of what they’ve done is improve on existing tech, but that could be said about a lot of companies in many industries.

Three of them we can “technically“ give them credit for;

  • Starting with the automatic wristwatch with a unidirectional rotor. Harwood had a rotor, but was limited to back and forth(less than 180) motion by bumpers and a very limited power reserve). Unidirectional rotors were previously used in pocket watches.
  • First automatic with a date (the Mimo didn’t change the date automatically). 
  • Rolex is technically right in their claim first to 100 as the BP was rated for about 91, but again, it’s more marketing than anything else.

Once again, all are mostly technicalities. The one aspect we have to cut most companies slack for is, in the early 1900s it was a big planet and many companies were working on similar tech without genuinely knowing what others were doing. Patents filed in one country often didn’t see public light for decades. Does that fix Rolex’s marketing nonsense? No, but like much of history, they are following the script of keep telling the same story over and over again until people believe it.

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I learned many things today. Thank you.

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honedwatches

I learned many things today. Thank you.

That made it all worthwhile ✨

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AllTheWatches

Well done. Lots of similar articles on this with a few more.

There are so many asterisks with their marketing claims. Like you said, comes down to many technicalities and separating myth from reality. Watchmaking existed long before Rolex as did many of the innovations, granted largely in pocket watches. Most of what they’ve done is improve on existing tech, but that could be said about a lot of companies in many industries.

Three of them we can “technically“ give them credit for;

  • Starting with the automatic wristwatch with a unidirectional rotor. Harwood had a rotor, but was limited to back and forth(less than 180) motion by bumpers and a very limited power reserve). Unidirectional rotors were previously used in pocket watches.
  • First automatic with a date (the Mimo didn’t change the date automatically). 
  • Rolex is technically right in their claim first to 100 as the BP was rated for about 91, but again, it’s more marketing than anything else.

Once again, all are mostly technicalities. The one aspect we have to cut most companies slack for is, in the early 1900s it was a big planet and many companies were working on similar tech without genuinely knowing what others were doing. Patents filed in one country often didn’t see public light for decades. Does that fix Rolex’s marketing nonsense? No, but like much of history, they are following the script of keep telling the same story over and over again until people believe it.

Exactly on point - agree on all counts.

I don't hate Rolex or any brand for that matter, it just jangles my nerves a bit when companies inflate their importance.

A little humility goes a long way in any business.

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TalkingDugong

It's marketing. A lot of their competitors that made firsts were either gone or under new management/in name only hence getting away with their false claims. For a non-profit coughbullcough their marketing is very cutthroat.

I never really understood who benefits from their non-profit status. 

Do we know what good in the world attributes to Rolex? 

All I know is that they must have an advertising budget the size of Coca-Cola's - not sure purchasing advertising improves the world in any way.

I suppose all of the people employed by Rolex if they are well paid with good benefits are reaping the rewards of Rolex's success and that can't be a bad thing.

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ChronoGuy

Exactly on point - agree on all counts.

I don't hate Rolex or any brand for that matter, it just jangles my nerves a bit when companies inflate their importance.

A little humility goes a long way in any business.

Spot on, but it continues to this day. How many current brands are relaunched brands strictly for money? How many micro brands exist if we take out the private labels who literally do everything on their behalf? So much of the industry is built on sketchy/false heritage. 

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VegasDancer

I could be wrong but I’ve read they bought the patent for the Helium eacape valve from another company thereby claimed they invented it.

This might a good spot to clear thar up, too 

Here's an interesting article from the guys at Craft & Tailored - Cam and Tyler are pretty good with their research, so I will rely on what they say.

In summary, looks like Rolex worked together with COMEX to develop the helium escape valve for limited special use. However, it was Doxa who first introduced the helium escape valve on its dive watches for sale to the public.

Interesting story - doesn't look like Rolex should take any hits on this one.

Deeply Misunderstood: The True Story Behind The Helium Escape Valve – Craft + Tailored (craftandtailored.com)

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AllTheWatches

Spot on, but it continues to this day. How many current brands are relaunched brands strictly for money? How many micro brands exist if we take out the private labels who literally do everything on their behalf? So much of the industry is built on sketchy/false heritage. 

I guess it's the nostalgic age we live in. How many "bands" still have the original members when they are out touring these days.

I recall a funny story. I was at a concert with a business colleague who is a drummer outside of his professional life. We were watching "ELP" perform and the only member in the group was Carl Palmer. I made the insensitive observation that it was really like watching a tribute band because the only member left was the "drummer" (same observation for Foghat).

Somehow he didn't see my point 😉

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ChronoGuy

I never really understood who benefits from their non-profit status. 

Do we know what good in the world attributes to Rolex? 

All I know is that they must have an advertising budget the size of Coca-Cola's - not sure purchasing advertising improves the world in any way.

I suppose all of the people employed by Rolex if they are well paid with good benefits are reaping the rewards of Rolex's success and that can't be a bad thing.

Oh...themselves, for one. Non-profit organisations are usually not taxed in Switzerland, I suppose. 

Also they don't have to disclose their accounts to anyone. That's another benefit. 

Until somebody blows the whistle we might never know what's going on in the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation.

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Thanks for the facts! I knew most of that already and I typically dismiss all company marketing (regardless of industry) because it’s their way of trying to get your money. I still value Rolex in high regard because of their quality of watchmaking and design prowess since the time of all these claims. Not too many watch companies have stood the test of time (pardon the pun) continuously since inception. 

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Did Rolex run over your dog?  

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